Douglas Thompson's Blog

28 February 2017
Return of Bhutan Boy

Late in December Jamyang (Bhutan Boy) arrived for a planned stay of three months. He brought along the delightful and adorable Yeshey, his childhood friend, who is the third partner in our Better Bhutan business. Yeshey stayed about two weeks.  Jamyang was here to take a three-month Spanish language class at Chulalongkorn University. Tourism industry people benefit from speaking more languages. Jamyang already speaks Dzongkha, Hindi and English. I discouraged him from considering Mandarin. The fastest growing tourism market in in the world is Spanish-speaking Latin America.

Sadly, the Spanish class turned out to be a train wreck. Out of 35+ students Jamyang was the only foreigner. What Chula's website did not bother to say was that half of the classroom hours were taught in Thai. Chula's classes are normally taught in English. Ultimately, he returned home speaking better Thai than Español.

If you have followed the saga of our somewhat unlikely friendship you know that he does not reveal much emotion, whether it be shock, awe, anger or disagreement. He is an army brat, so it is easy to understand that he never learned to challenge authority or show too much emotion. Rather than embarrass him with details,  I want to celebrate how he was able to handle himself as an adult at some of the dinner parties that were part of his visit. His social skills began to blossom during this stay and, by the end, he became quite the conversationalist.

It was good for me, too, to have someone to cook for and spend time with. I learned a lot from him as well, not the least of which was that you can eat a package of instant ramen without actually cooking it. (Mash the unopened package until the contents are broken into small bits. Sprinkle the contents of the soup powder over the bits, mix it up, and enjoy it with a cold beer. Finely sliced fresh chilies optional.)

our farm in CambodiaTime is a problem with me. There is never enough to go around, and I had to keep up with my normal office routine. While the office is closed on weekends, his class was on Saturdays, which did not leave us a lot of quality time together except for lazy Sundays, so we we decided to take a wonderful trip to Phom Penh and Angkor Wat for six days. He got to add another visa to his passport and experience an entirely new culture. He saw quite a bit and had many first-time experiences, beginning with his first glass of Champagne in the Kingpower Lounge at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

We took a luxury bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and got off at Kompong Kdei where Rath, my adopted son and our manager in Angkor was waiting to take us to "the farm." You already know about me and tomatoes. We are now experimenting with a farm project in rural Western Cambodia. By rural, I mean in the boonies--so far off the main highway that you can't see it. Our car could not quite make it there because the "road" ceased to exist in some spots, so we were rescued by a fleet of  motorbikes to see the first several rows of tomatoes growing. They are small but growing vigorously, and we have plans to go full throttle. Our farmer is a wrinkled grannie with a green thumb and lots of cow shit.

In Siem Reap we enjoyed the hospitality of the new Jaya River Park Hotel, which is simply magnificent. We wanted stay forever. (You can read more about it in the March Club Sanook newsletter.) Unfortunately, forever was not to be. While we were enjoying a pizza Margherita and some fabulous melanzane at Il Forno, Jamyang received a text message that his grandfather had died. He was on a plane back to Bhutan four days later. I am missing him a lot but loved the time he was here.

You can read my review of Jaya House on TripAdvisor. I'm "PickyInParadise" and I love Helpful votes.

Read about the our first farm in Cambodia ten years ago here. You can find a blog about tomatoes here.

Selfie

Rath (on the right) took a selfie of Jamyang, me, grannie the farmer and her granddaughter

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Gone are the 705s

If you don't like whining move along to "Divorce, California Style."

Geek 705 framesIn the decade I have been writing this soap opera I have never used it to retaliate personally. I have denounced politicians and TV evangelists, but have never picked a bone because of a personal grudge. That changes today.

About a decade ago I had just eaten a burrito in a taqueria on 18th Street behind Wallgreen's in San Francisco's Castro district. It's one of the personal rituals I indulge in on those increasingly-rare trips "home." I passed an optical shop and, there in the window, were the eyeglass frames that almost defined me for nearly ten years. I had to have them. The guy in the shop asked me to make an offer. Business must not have been very good but these Geek 705 frames practically defined me since then. Over the years I replaced my frames only twice.

On a Friday evening in November I fell flat on my face in the hallway of my condo building only about three meters from my front door. I don't remember falling or how it happened--just that there was blood everywhere, that my glasses had broken into three pieces, and that my neighbors were trying to help me to my feet while dobbing at the blood on the floor with tissues. I ended up with the third black eye of my life. Unlike the one I got beating the living crap out of a doped-up Bangkok taxi driver about fifteen years ago (while under the influence, wearing a tall, purple Marge Simpson wig decorated with Christmas ornaments, and carrying a beaded handbag), I took no pride in this one.

Fedex WaybillIn the following days I went to the website of the company that makes 705s and other fashionable glasses and learned that they were no longer in stock. The frames sold in Bangkok are so 1990s, so I ordered something else and paid $25 additional for Federal Express shipment. After about a week I received a call from FedEx informing me that my shipment had been impounded "for fraud." The company had declared a value of $5 on the package. Not sure about you, but I am pretty certain that Thai Customs have already figured out that nobody ships $5 plastic optical frames across the Pacific by FedEx.

Understandably upset, I wrote to Alena Lehrer at Geek Eyewear. She seemed dumbfounded, yet offered no help other than to say: "We'll reimburse you for that since it looks like something got wrong in declaring the value of frames." (Duh!) It took nearly a week to get this sorted out. I was fined 1,000 baht for trying to cheat Thai customs, and paid a little more than 500 baht duty (a total of more than 46% of the cost of the frames). I asked Ms Lehrer for reimbursement, but she balked, claiming that the "real" FedEx charge was "$60."

Honestly, this is not a big sum of money, and I'm trying to just let it go. They sell great frames if you are geeky. Have a look at www.geekeyewear.com, although their ad will show up on your Facebook feed for what may seem like months. I often click on those ads, even though I know they have to pay for every click, just to see if the 705s are back in stock.

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Divorce, California Style

I have written about this before, but it's worth a revisit: Some Californians want a divorce... from the United States.

A growing number of California voters want their state to separate from the United States and become a independent nation. It already was the California Republic before joining the U.S. Unless you are an expert in Constitutional law, hear me out rather than complain that it can't be done. You may be wrong. A group calling itself #Calexit is trying to put a proposition on the ballot in 2019 that would allow Californians to choose.  As I have already said, I am behind it 110%.

California RepublicThere are plenty of good reasons why so many people are backing this, including a lot of rich Silicon Valley types. Here are a few of them:

  • California is big--larger than France
  • California is home to some of the best educated and enlightened people in the world (and a few of the most unusual).
  • California has its own culture that is markedly different from any other US state. It is diverse, welcoming, and progressive. It was among the first to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and same sex marriage, and has some of the strongest environmental laws in the country. California was once a part of Mexico and continues to be one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse places in the world.
  • California is the sixth largest economy in the world. Much of the states share taxes paid by people who work there go to pay for federal projects in red states. Yet, federal spending on schools and infrastructure seems to lag behind other states.
  • California as an independent nation can do far more to help the world in the areas of development, economy, education and the environment.
  • The #Calexit movement was born before the election of the current president. Since the inauguration of Donald Trump enthusiasm has grown, as you might expect. Trump hates and wants to punish California. The #Calexit movement sends him a strong message to Washington.

Even if you are skeptical about #Calexit, I urge you (if you are registered California voter) to sign the petition to put the issue before voters in November. Signing the petition does not mean you agree with the idea, but that you think it is worth discussion in the larger public discourse. To read more at the Yes California website: http://www.yescalifornia.org and download a copy of the petition. There are already 56 #Calexit chapters* in towns and cities across the state if you want to become involved. More than 335,000 people have Liked and/or Shared the #Calexit website on their Facebook page, so we not just a small group of kooks.

If you are a Californian living abroad and are registered as an absentee, shoot me an email me: calexitthailand@zoho.com. I am #Calexit's volunteer for expats Californians living in Southeast Asia. I will email you a .pdf copy of the petition that you can duplicate on your own and share with friends.

* Amador County, Auburn, Bakersfield, Bay Area, Burbank, Claremont, Clovis, Cupertino, Emeryville, Fairfield, Fresno, Humboldt County, Indio, Long Beach, Los Feliz, Lucerne Valley, Marin County, Modesto, Orange County, Oxnard, Palmdale-Lancaster, Red Bluff, Sacramento, San Diego, San Carlos, San Fernando, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Jose, Sausalito, Selma,  Solano, Stockton, , Venice, Ventura, and Visalia, plus representatives in Seattle, New York City, Mexico, Spain, France, and Thailand. If you would like to be in touch with any of these chapters or want to start a chapter of your own please email me.

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No Tattoos, please. We're Buddhist.

In Thailand, as in many other predominantly-Buddhist countries, there is a growing sensitivity to using images of the Buddha inappropriately. A tattoo of Buddha could get you arrested, deported, or refused entry to a country, as a British tourist found out in Sri Lanka in 2014, and a Spanish tourist was was deported from Myanmar last July. Lately there is a shocking amount of Buddha-themed merchandise advertised on Facebook, like pillow covers and slippers. The worst  possible offender is a carpet with a Buddha image, since feet in Thai culture are considered unclean. Displaying images in your home as knick-knacks is inappropriate unless you are Buddhist. Christ-on-the-cross candlesticks, car seat covers or bath towels? A set of Prophet Mohammed beer mugs? That's how shocking Buddha merchandise is to people in our part of the world. The photo of the foot below really outraged my staff as extremely offensive.

Amazon has pages and pages of Buddha merchandise, most of it real garbage. A Buddha Zippo lighter? A Buddha shower curtain? We also found things like kitchen curtains, bedside lamps, cell phone cases and even pink "Himalayan" popcorn adorned with images of The Enlightened One. To most Buddhists this is shameful and disrespectful. For that reason it is a crime to take Buddha images out of Thailand without a permit unless you are Thai and plan to use them for religious purposes.

If you have a tattoo and plan to visit our part of the word, keep it covered at all times. And if you are thinking of one, it's probably not a very good idea. If you are considering a Buddhist sant (religious) tattoo, I will send you to a great shaman/tattoo artist I know.

lamppillowAmputate this food Buddha Zippo LighterBuddha shower curtain

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The Final Word: Ignore The Noise, But Stay Angry

Just about every morning I am am awake at 04:30 or 05:00 for the only quiet time I have all to myself. I read the New York Times, which takes about 90 minutes, and follow that up with BBC, CNN, the Bangkok Post, and sometimes Al Jazeera and Associated Press. For the past month, it takes me at least half of my NYT reading time to get past all of the idiotic things Donald Trump and his legions have done during the previous news cycle. Then I log onto Facebook and see much, much more. At around 07:00 I turn on CNN. (Their evening shows appear live in the morning here.) For about two hours I yell at my TV. During Jamyang's visit he learned way too much about American politics and took home a rich new vocabulary of expletives.

There are several universal truths we already know too well: Trump is a mad man and a liar, he is fed too much of what he is spewing by those around him, and that the press is not our enemy. I got it. You get it. I also believe he was elected because many in the media (CNN in particular) gave him almost unlimited coverage because of his side-show value. He was a carnival freak entertaining a lot of angry people who came to soak it all up gleefully.

Donald Trump: FascistFourteen months ago I wrote in this blog about the perilous path that the media was going down, and how to stop things from from ending up the way they did. While Trump is using the classic fascist hat tricks of discrediting mainstream news media and making us believe that "we" all have to hate "them," the media continue to buy tickets to the carnival they have already seen. If they want to put a stop to their eventual demise, they need to present more balanced news.

There is more happening in the world than Donald Trump. This does not mean the news media should ignore him, but it would be helpful if they reported less of the noise he is making and more about the the realities that he is trying to obscure. The media have fallen for all of the distracting noise coming from the White House rather than focusing on the big stories: the Russian connection and how Trump and his family are using his newfound power to "do business."

Many news outlets choose what gets published based on reader/viewer demand. The more you share stories about a maniac in the White House on social media, the more noise they are going to publish. The New York Times, for example, publishes a list of the five most-shared, tweeted, or emailed stories every day in their mobile app. I, for one, am going to stop contributing to their data mining by no longer sharing stories that repeat the noise and, in many cases, not reading past the headline, since they keep track of what stories you actually read, or skim through in their data collection. Instead, I will share positive stories like the one I read today about Grab Your Wallet, a project to boycott Trump family businesses and get Ivanka's merchandise out of retailers and online retailers. If you are going to share a story online, one like this is a better choice than The Donald's latest tweets. You can read the story here. Hit the "share" button when you're done, and remain angry. The moment you stop, you are giving into the madness.

Oh, I found See's Candy on Grab Your Wallet's list of companies that contribute to the Trump family income. I've been their customer for fifty years. If they don't stop immediately I am going on a very long diet.

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